Every little helps. The Biarritz captain Thomas Lievrèmont - the first-choice No 8 for France in this season's Six Nations Championship and one of the more intelligent back-row players of his generation - is struggling to make the Heineken Cup semi-final with Bath in San Sebastian tomorrow. The news gives the West Countrymen a precious glimmer of possibility as they approach their biggest match in eight years.
Lievrèmont has yet to recover from the groin injury he suffered during the quarter-final victory over Sale at the same venue, and has all but ruled himself out.
"It's painful when I stretch and it's also painful to touch," he said yesterday. "I don't want to take any risks because if I play I could damage the groin even further and my season would be over."
Assuming the French champions do not railroad him into the side against his wishes, Bath are likely to find themselves up against two outstanding international loose forwards in Serge Betsen and Imanol Harinordoquy, plus the less familiar Thierry Dusautoir.
Given the reputations of the two coaches - Brian Ashton and his opposite number in Biarritz, the former Test winger Patrice Lagisquet - the match will be an intriguing meeting of minds as well as a fierce physical confrontation. Ashton and Lagisquet may not know each other particularly well, but they are agreed on one thing: they cannot, for the life of them, fathom the Bath team. Ashton admitted last week that he could not explain his team's mood swings, which often take place within the confines of a single game. Yesterday, Lagisquet said something very similar.
"We've been doing our video analysis, and I have to say Bath are a pretty hard team to make out," he confessed. "We've looked at their Heineken Cup victory over Leinster early in the season. Then, they were a very organised team who appeared to be a big threat. Looking at their more recent matches, particularly in the English Premiership, it's like watching a different team."
If Bath want to confuse him even more, they should mail him a tape of last weekend's victory over Bristol. They played like angels in the first half. In the second, they did not play at all.
Gloucester, who take on Worcester in tomorrow's European Challenge Cup semi-final at Kingsholm, have pointed Quinton Davids towards the door after a dismal return on their investment in the former Springbok lock. Davis made only three Premiership starts and as a result the Cherry and Whites have declined to take up an option on his services next season. The Italy captain, Marco Bortolami, scheduled to move to Gloucester from the top-flight French club Narbonne at the end of the season, will be a far better bet.
Meanwhile, relegated Leeds have lost another member of their first-team squad, hot on the heels of the transfer-listed New Zealand scrum-half Justin Marshall. Mike Shelley, their long-serving prop, has announced his retirement from the game.Reuse content